A Warren County school principal who became an educator with the help of financial aid programs for underrepresented minority students says a new state loan forgiveness program could help Kentucky build a more diverse teacher workforce.
“I see the program as a step in the process,” said Bristow Elementary School Principal Chris Stunson, who added that teacher prep programs must also prioritize outreach to high school students.
The Kentucky Department of Education recently announced the new Kentucky Academy for Equity in Teaching program. The renewable loan forgiveness program is designed to identify and prepare diverse public educators, according to a news release.
According to the criteria, applicants must be either a member of an underrepresented minority ethnic group, demonstrate financial need through the receipt of Pell grants or Perkins loans, a graduate of the Kentucky School for the Blind or Kentucky School for the Deaf, a first-generation college student or military veteran.
Students can also qualify if they are a former migratory agricultural worker, the child of a migratory agricultural worker or a current or former English learner.
Through the program, undergraduate students can receive up to $5,000 a semester over the course of three academic years, with a maximum of $20,000. They can put that money toward the cost of a teacher prep program approved by the Education Professional Standards Board at both public and private universities.
Additionally, students in an initial certification master’s education preparation program can receive up to $2,500 per semester for up to four semesters over three academic years. The maximum those students can receive is $10,000.
If students meet the terms of the agreement, the loans are forgiven. Program participants will sign an agreement requiring them to obtain a teaching certificate and teach one semester in one of Kentucky’s public schools for each semester or summer term the program funds. If a student does not complete a degree or get a teaching job after graduating, they’re required to pay back the loan.
The program’s application deadline was recently extended to Feb. 20, and application materials are available online at bit.ly/KAEToverview.
Stunson, who is African-American, credited similar programs in college for persuading him to consider education as a career.
At the end of high school, Stunson had no interest in becoming a teacher. Instead, he pursued a career in civil engineering, even attending a minority engineer program at the University of Kentucky.
“This is when I came into contact with a similar program that allowed me to start engaging in the teaching profession before graduating high school,” Stunson wrote in an email to the Daily News.
“The minority education scholarships, loan forgiveness programs and positive role models at Madison Central High School as well as Union College guided me to the programs to help me complete my education degree,” Stunson wrote. “The programs changed my career path from engineering to becoming a math teacher.”
Now, along with leading Bristow Elementary, Stunson is a counselor for the Young Male Leadership Academy at Western Kentucky University. The program works with young males from diverse backgrounds to develop leadership skills and consider the teaching profession.
Julia Rivas, WKU’s minority teacher recruitment coordinator, administers the program. Rivas said she sees the KAET program as a definite plus for the high school students she works with.
Students will often choose to go into other fields, such as business, if they can get help paying for teaching degrees.
“Having the financial assistance will definitely give them that support that they’re needing,” she said.
Rivas also appreciates the mentorship aspect of the KAET program, she said.
Stunson, however, sees the program as only one tactic for achieving the larger goal of developing a teacher pipeline for underrepresented minority students.
Teacher prep programs must give students an early opportunity in high school “to engage in the work and encounter the rewards (non-tangible) of our profession,” he wrote in the email.
Stunson also stressed that school is not a pleasant place for many in underrepresented populations. That’s why schools have to be an exciting place where students want to be, Stunson wrote.
“If school was not a pleasant place for you, you definitely aren’t likely to go into the field,” he wrote.